Nonviolent Response and Self-purification

Here is a lengthy quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. This is from an annotated version of  “Letter from Birmngham Jail”  that can be found HERE.martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-8

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants—for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

I put in bold red that which I am focusing on. I could bold the whole section since all seem pretty relevant.

It seems to me that Christians could learn greatly from King here.

  • Some Christians are promoting violent action either through direct action or indirect through encouraging violent response of military or paramilitary— or passively by cheering violent acts (or aggressive language) of others.
  • Christians are failing to use words to negotiate or dialogue, but only to rile up supporters and demonize the opposition.

But I am especially concerned about the failurecthulhu2016 of so many to address seriously the third step. There should be a period of self-purification… of motives, of intents and goals, and responses. Rather than purification, I see the promotion of ideas such as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or “choose the lesser evil.” Some may see these as necessary responses… (“The world will fall apart if THEY,” whoever ‘they’ are, “win.”) but I would like to think this is a mistake. When evil seems at its greatest… we must look at ourselves the most closely… and to God. God is our strength not guns or demogogues.

While some feel that in times of trouble, we “have to get our hands dirty,” maybe it is time for just the opposite… to have our hands and actions and hearts especially clean before God and the opposition. It may be the best time to choose the inexpedient response.

 

The Power of Weakness: Part 3

In the previous posts I have developed four categories of missions based on relation

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he i...
Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he is tortured. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to violence and power. Of course the categories are dependent on how the terms are defined.

For the purpose of the categories, violence has to do with acts that may be violent in a classic sense, but may also include methods that are harassing or abusive as well.

Power within this context is based on utilizing the position of governmental, legal, economic or social power or authority.

Some missions methods that fall into these categories:

Violent and Power: Crusades, Inquisition (at times), “Gunboat evangelism” and other forms of govermentally-mandated conversions.

Non-violent and Power: Inquisition (at other times), Colonial regulation of faith and conduct, Blue laws, “Rice Christian”  and other dependency ministries. Desecration power encounter. I called this “Duragraha” from Mohatma Gandhi… though I don’t promise to be using the term exactly like he did.

Violent without power: “abortion clinic bombings” and other forms of religious terrorism, Desecration of other’s faith artifacts, religious harassment

Non-violent without power: empowering (rather than dependency-generating) social ministry, training, missions encounters (power, truth, allegiance, and love) when done respectfully and without coersion, dialogue. I called this “Satyagraha” from Mahatma Gandhi… again, not promising to be using the term exactly like he did.

I believe, in general, Christian missions is non-violent and acting without human power or authority. There are exceptions.

For example, I believe that Christian Community Development or Social Ministry is acceptable, however, a primary goal is to go from a position of power to empowering others towards a position of interdependence. The same is true in the case of training. Training begins, in a sense, from a position of authority of one over another, but should be empowering, rather than maintaining that position of power, of one over another.

Much of missions has tended toward the teleological. I am not against the teleological… if something truly doesn’t work, why use it? But we should start from a deontological (and contextual) view. If Christ is our example in missions (and I believe He is), we have a good starting point, as well as healthy limits, on how to do missions. It seems like one should start from a position of non-violence since this appears to be a primary limitation on His methodology. The overturning of the tables in the Court of the Gentiles might be an exception, but I am not convinced that this was a missions method on the part of Christ. Additionally, Jesus did not position Himself utilizing governmental or societal authority. Rather, He came in poverty as a servant. As a teacher, He took on some level of authority, and yet did so in a transitional form… giving His disciples authority to serve and train others in His place.

The Power of Weakness: Part 2

Terminology and Classifications

I planned to get to Missions Theory. But the topic got me thinking about terminology and classifications. “Weakness Missions”  is not a satisfying term. After all, there are a lot of ways to be weak… many of them are unproductive.

I considered “Subversion Missions.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of definitions for subversion, some of which are completely inappropriate. Subversion may mean undermining the beliefs and power structures in a society from a position of weakness. Sometimes, it can be used more broadly of overthrowing, regardless of method. It also can involve overturning moral constraints regardless of whether the moral structure is good or bad.

So I started looking at non-violence theory. I have never really studied that topic much. I was in the military so I know more about power projection, and control. My problem is that nonviolence theorists often start from a belief that utilizing nonviolent means is more likely to lead to success than utilizing violent means. While nonviolence has had its share of successes, its failures have been equally legendary. Many changes, even positive changes, have occurred through violence.

I found, however, a lot of interesting thoughts in nonviolence theory as it pertains to missions. But there is the question of power as well. Power, after all, is not necessarily related to violence or non-violence.

NonviolenceOn the violent side, things are pretty clear… some types of violence are used from a position of power and some types are used from a position of weakness. We sometimes forget that terrorism is used because the individuals conducting terrorism are weak. Of course, their use of violence is meant to pressure change while masking the underlying weakness.

Okay, but what about the other two? Well, looking at the various types of non-violent response, some seem to have merit and some don’t (at least as it pertains to missions). Two that fit well into the graph above are types described by Mahatma Gandhi.

Satygraha (I am pulling from Wikipedia here under Nonviolence) literally translates as “insistently holding to the truth.”  Gandhi described it as a position of the strong, but not necessarily utilizing “power tactics.” As such it is a matter of choice rather than necessity. The focus is on utilizing truth and love, working through patience and willingness to suffer.

Duragraha literally translates as “holding on by force.” It is also nonviolent, but may use forms of non-violent harassment, and may not be focused on the truth. A lot of non-violent protest (PETA, Greenpeace, anti-abortion movement) utilizes this one.

As such, Satyagraha seems quite similar to what (in my opinion) is best in Christian missions. I would like to suggest that Jesus worked from a position of non-power and non-violence. As noted above, such a position does not mean lacking in strength or potential to act on power, but a conscious choice to not utilize power… focusing on love and truth with a willingness to suffer to the end to cause change. I could describe good Christian Missions as Christian Satyagraha Missions. Some might be offended by this because it may sound a bit Indian or Hindu. But that is a Western prejudice. The term Missions has its roots in pagan Roman terminology. It is just that people in the West have gotten use to Latin and Greek and German and English, but haven’t gotten used to Asian terms.

Frankly, I am unconvinced that nonviolence is more effective than violence in creating change. I am unconvinced that operation from a position of non-power is more effective than operating from a position of power. However, I believe as Christians we are called to operate from a position of meekness (having power but  acting with loving constraint). And in missions, this position has been extremely successful in causing change. Personally, I think that this fact comes more from the work of the Holy Spirit than it does from the inherent strength of such a strategy.    …. but I could be wrong.

Next post, I will look at some Christian mission work from this view.